Undergraduate English Paper

Instructions

This is a English 102 research paper. It is talking about Yasukuni shrine that in Tokyo, Japan.

Answer

Yasukuni shrine

Contents

Introduction. 1

The origin of the Yasukuni Shrine controversy. 2

Yasukuni Shrine and Japanese politics today. 4

Influence of Yasukuni Shrine on contemporary East Asian politics. 7

Conclusion. 10

Works Cited. 12

 

Introduction

Yasukuni Shrine is a controversial Japanese religious institution. It was founded in 1869 with the sole purpose of honoring the souls of all those who died while rendering military service to Japan. It mostly honors military men but also many civilians who died in time of war. These civilians include employees of munitions factories that were bombed during war as well as merchant seamen. However, it does not contain entire populations that were killed during wars. The souls of the Japanese war dead, particularly military men, are believed to have become revered spirits. The Yasukuni shrine is a holy place for celebrating the efforts of such people in liberating their country.

The shrine remains controversial across the Asia Pacific. Every time a Japanese leader visits the shrine, a wave of protests sweeps across the region. This is largely because such a leader is often perceived by Japan’s neighbors to be paying reverence to some of the people who have committed the most egregious crimes in history. For instance, Yasukuni Shrine is home to about 1000 World War II criminals who were convicted of war crimes by Allied war tribunals and executed. By paying homage to such people, Japanese leaders often seem to be creating the impression that those who have been inducted into the shrine are simply ‘victims’ of tribunals established to handle issues relating to international war crimes (Shibuichi 203). The aim of this paper is to provide a detailed discussion of the Yasukuni Shrine and the controversies surrounding its existence.

The origin of the Yasukuni Shrine controversy

Prior to 1978, visits to the shrine by Japanese leaders never used to trigger opposition among neighboring countries. During this year, a secret ceremony was conducted, whereby Japanese authorities introduced a special category for people who were “victims” of various international war crimes tribunals. This development triggered uproar across the Asia Pacific simply because the crimes for which the Japanese military officers were convicted were extremely horrendous. Some of these crimes involved murders, improper treatment of prisoners of war, maiming, plundering of private and public property, and wanton destruction of villages, towns and cities beyond any justification on the basis of military necessity. Other crimes included rape, torture, pillage, massacres, and other cruelties subjected to various countries that Japan over-ran during war.

The individual horrors were simply too dramatic to be captured fully through a list of the atrocities committed by Japanese troops. It may be necessary to mention the so-called Rape of Nanking, which occurred in 1937 (Takahashi 104). In this horror, two Japanese officers participated in a contest to determine who could kill a higher number of Chinese citizens with a sword (Takahashi 104). Back at home in Japan, this incident was reported by newspapers as if it was a sporting activity. Each of the two Japanese officers went on to kill 100 Chinese citizens (Takahashi 104). In other incidents, Japanese troops would use prisoners of war for bayonet practice. The prisoners were also being exposed to biological and chemical weapons at intervals to determine the weapons’ effectiveness. A number of Chinese cities suffered massive destruction of property and many civilian deaths following infection with biological agents. In many other situations, many young Asian women ended up working as sex-slaves.

Between 1937 and1945, Japan waged wars aimed at expanding its empire, leading to the death of tens of millions of innocent people (Takahashi 80). Following the country’s defeat that culminated in the end of the World War II and the global dominance of the US and Russia, US-led tribunals were established. In these tribunals, three categories of war criminals were tried. Class A category comprised of those who were accused of committing crimes against peace by conspiring to start and wage wars. All conspiracies to initiate unprovoked wars are regarded as crimes under international law. Class B category was reserved for those who actually committed specific atrocities. Class C category comprised of those who planned, authorized, ordered, or failed to prevent such unprovoked wars by virtue of the command responsibility that they actively exercised at the highest levels of authority.

The outcomes of the tribunal’s efforts to bring justice have on many occasions been subjected to criticism mainly on grounds of inconsistency. Thousands of Japanese stood trial for Class B and Class C crimes (Shibuichi 202). About 1000 of these were convicted and executed (Shibuichi 203). An additional number of military officers stood trial and the eventual execution in the Soviet Union and in China. The presence of these men at Yasukuni Shine is widely viewed as an act of outright mockery on the part of Japan by its neighbors.

Complaints against Yasukuni are not restricted to the presence of executed Japanese war criminals. The shrine is more than a memorial; it is also houses a museum that is toured by thousands of schoolchildren in Japan every year. Naturally, one would expect the museum to sanitize the Japanese contribution to the World War II. For Japan’s neighbors, this is a strong indication that Japan is not yet ready to inculcate the war lessons learnt in the past into its younger generation. For Japan’s neighbors such as China and South Korea, the tone created by the shrine is dangerously nationalistic, even xenophobic. The history documented in the museum does not highlight the fact that Japan started the war with the United States, China, and Western countries. Moreover, it fails to give sufficient details regarding the horrors of war that were perpetuated in the name of promoting Japanese nationalism. China is particularly angered by Japan’s consistent failure to fully acknowledge and educate its children regarding its contribution to the war crimes of the past.

Many Taiwanese and Koreans also complain about the rationale for the continued enshrinement of their fellow countrymen who had been conscripted to serve in the Japanese army when their homeland was under occupation by Japan. Tens of thousands of Koreans and Taiwanese are among the war dead at Yasukuni. Many of the families of these individuals have been requesting successive Japanese governments to remove their relatives from the shrine. However, Japanese priests have continued to insist that no one can be removed from the shrine according to the Shinto religion.

Yasukuni Shrine and Japanese politics today

Anyone interested in Japanese politics must at some point visit Yasukuni shrine. Every year on August 15, a huge crowd of Japanese citizens from different walks of life gathers at this shrine to commemorate the defeat of the Japanese nation during the World War II. Ordinary citizens tend to be joined by politicians, government ministers, and national security agents. Since 1869, when the Meiji government established the shrine, many efforts continue to be made to ensure that this private institution continues to retain its significance in Japanese politics.

Between 1869 and 1946, the shrine was under the stewardship of the Army and Navy Ministry. This mode of operation was interrupted by American Occupation authorities, which severed the traditional relationship between the state and the Shinto religion. This in effect transformed the Yasukuni Shrine into a private institution. Under this arrangement, its operations are financed by the ceremonial donations and fees contributed by adherents of the Shinto religion. The shrine’s precinct is open to the public upon paying a small fee.

Incidentally, visits by top government officials tend to trigger domestic anger. Older Japanese citizens are concerned that visits to the shrine by rightist politicians are likely to take the country to the path of remilitarization. Today, the Japanese constitution imposes constraints on militarization; consequently the country has no invading military force. Senior citizens of the country are concerned that the rightist politicians are likely to take advantage of an apathetic and ignorant younger generation by pushing constitutional changes that will lead to the uplifting of all legal constraints on remilitarization.

In 2001, Prime Minister Janichiro Koizumi went to the Yasukuni Shrine for a worship service. This visit became a major controversy in the country. It greatly changed perceptions regarding the country’s memory and how it commemorates the World War II. Koizumi was one of the most popular prime ministers in the 20th century. He was the first Japanese prime minister to defy the strength of traditionally demarcated voting blocs and instead choosing to ascend to power solely through the will of the Japanese people. More importantly, Koizumi declared war on state bureaucracy as well as the political party that sponsored him, the Liberal Democratic Party. Being the reformist that Koizumi was, it was not surprising that his visit stirred greater controversy at home and abroad than that of his predecessors. It was perceived as a strong message that Koizumi was ready to take Japan back on the path of remilitarization.

The disasters that Japan encountered during the World War II continue to influence the nature of Japanese politics. Risk aversion has become the hallmark of the country’s political and socioeconomic engagements both internally and with the rest of the world. Many people in Japan feel that the country should avoid all political activities that are likely to lead it towards the aggressive brand of nationalism that culminated in a humiliating defeat during the World War II. For such people, visits to the Yasukuni Shrine by populist politicians such as Koizumi threaten the existing conceptions of nationalism that are founded largely on the enduring lessons of Japan’s recent war history.

In Japan’s political environment, the Yasukuni Shrine is widely viewed as a symbol of Japanese nationalism. Once political leaders visit this place, they are perceived to be a potential reviver of Japanese nationalism. The visits also detract leaders from more pressing problems being encountered across the Asian country. In many cases, political detractors of such leaders take such an opportunity to oppose ongoing reforms. Moreover, the visits raise unnecessary friction with South Korea and China. The shrine as a symbol of Japanese national is so important that such visits constitute one of the criteria for determining whether a leader belongs to the right or left wing.

The best way to understand visits by most Japanese prime ministers and other political leaders is by regarding them as part of the ongoing “revisionist nationalism” in the country in the post-World War II era (Takahashi 59). In this form of nationalism, the shrine is viewed as a commemoration of Japan’s gloomy past and an opportunity for the younger generation to appreciate the importance of promoting peace. However, Taiwan, China, and Korea view the shrine as a mockery of the humiliating tribulations that these countries went through in the hands of Japanese occupation forces (Takahashi 93). These countries feel that Japan is not doing enough to ensure that such acts of aggression do not recur in the future. The need for revisionist nationalism is further necessitated by remorse on the part of many senior citizens and politicians whose damaged reputations arising from association with war crimes continue to haunt them to this day.

Influence of Yasukuni Shrine on contemporary East Asian politics

The impact of this shrine extends beyond the Japanese political environment. Its existence continues to influence changes in the nationalisms being embraced by many East Asian nations. In Korea, for instance, the shrine re-animates the image of Japan as it used to be before and during the World War II. When Prime Minister Koizumi visited the shrine, strong reactions emanated from Korean media, thereby stirring the country’s political environment. It even informed the postponement of visits to Japan by South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun for one year. Many people in Korea felt that by continuing to raise the profile of the shrine, Japan was continuing to disregard Korea’s past suffering.

The mere existence of a shrine that reveres the souls of war criminals would automatically trigger opposition from anti-nationalist Japanese in nearly the same way as from nationalist Koreans and Chinese. Anti-nationalist Japanese tend to raise serious concerns about the impact of the continued existence of the shrine in terms of Japan’s ability to reconcile with its neighbors. These concerns are not far-fetched given the reactions that emanate from South Korea and China following such visits. For instance, following Prime Minister Koizumi’s visit in  2006, the whole of South Korea seemed to have united against Japan. At the same time, East Asian countries appeared to be speaking in one voice by regarding the shrine as an emblem of Japanese militarism.

Across East Asia, August 15th should be a day during which all people of this region contemplate past wrongdoings and look for ways of building trust among nations. According to the popular view in these countries, reverence of war criminals in the shrine does not contribute in any way to such efforts. Rather, it only arouses painful emotions and bitter memories of the crimes committed by Japanese expansionist forces. Sometimes, this outpouring of emotions tends to cause the international community to sympathize these East Asian nations. Many people in East Asia feel that efforts by Japan to correct the wrongs committed in the past must start by addressing the “problem” that is the Yasukuni Shrine. The shrine is viewed as an “illness” that needs to be healed or else it will cause suffering across the region once again. These views are motivated by Japanese behavior that appears like an attempt to rewrite history.

In Korea, many people construe the shrine as a militarist symbol that is very threatening towards this East Asian country. This view greatly influenced the establishment of a Korean anti-Yasukuni movement. The objective of this movement was to advocate for the deleting of Korean names from the infamous list of the souls revered at the shrine. The movement also sought to promote research into the different ways through which the existence of the shrine goes against the global pursuit of peace and civilization. This movement gained the support of both ruling and opposition political parties in Korea, which agreed that the shrine was a symbol of aggression directed towards the country.

To the East Asian countries that were affected by Japanese aggression during the early 20th century, any mention of the Yasukuni Shrine whitewashes any apologies Japan has offered in the past. The country’s behavior towards the ceremonies conducted in the shrine only create the impression that Japan is still a militarist nation that has stubbornly refused to tolerate the views of other East Asian nations in favor of a nationalistic path that is destructive to the region as a whole.

To some extent, Korea and China may be correct in their assessments of China’s intentions regarding the shrine. Japan uses the shrine as a point of stabilization by seeking to build an impression of the Korean identity. Paradoxically, Koreans view the shrine as the most enduring threat to the country’s identity. Based on these assessments, it seems that Japan is using the Yasukuni shrine as one of the numerous tools at its disposal for shaping present relations by simply controlling the past. The shrine may be viewed as a reenactment of the Japanese colonial history. It reanimates the Korean image by “transporting” the entire nation into the days of Japanese colonial role. This image is further reinforced by the argument by Japanese politicians that the aim of all visits to the shrine is to honor war victims and reassert the country’s commitment to never again go to war.

Failure by former colonial victims of Japan to protest against the existence of the shrine may be viewed as an embracement of continuing Japanese influence. This could create the impression that the affected countries have no problem with any move by Japan to reenact its contribution to the bloodiest military incursions of the 20th century. By waging protests, East Asian countries are simply sending a nationalistic message to Japan.

Japan’s efforts to preserve the Yasukuni Shrine also pass a very strong message regarding the country’s desire to “reconstruct” history in such a way as to promote nationalism. Unfortunately, in many cases, such a move creates confrontation with its neighbors. In fact, it may negate Japan’s stated objective of ensuring that it never goes to war with another country. Japan’s neighbors often view efforts to glorify the war criminals revered in the shrine as an assault to their national identities. Unfortunately, whenever these overblown reactions are reviewed critically, they seem to reaffirm Japanese hegemony within the East Asian Region.

According to Takahashi, it is highly unlikely that people across East Asia can come to a consensus regarding the best way of dealing with the issue of Yasukuni Shrine once and for all any time soon (102). On the one hand, it may be extremely difficult to convince former Japanese colonies such as South Korea to shed off the perception of colonial oppression whenever Japanese leaders visit the shrine for commemorative reasons on 15th August. On the other hand, it is unreasonable for anyone to prevent Japanese leaders from carrying out any ceremonies they think are befitting to their fallen military officers in any part of the country.

Conclusion

This paper has examined the controversial issue of the Yasukuni shrine in a detailed manner. Upon this analysis, one easily realizes that the controversy surrounding this issue is being felt not only in Japan but also across the East Asian region. Japanese politicians and religious leaders have a responsibility to ensure that revisionist nationalism is not promoted through frequent visits to the shrine. It is important for the country to provide an accurate account of the aggressive actions that Japan perpetuated and the horrific effects that these actions had not just on Japan but also  on neighboring countries.

In conclusion, the Yasukuni shrine will continue to influence the politics of nationalism not just in Japan but also in neighboring countries especially South Korea and China. Japan has a unique opportunity of resolving the controversy surrounding the Yasukuni shrine either through cessation of visits by political leaders or the removal of the names of South Korea soldiers who died on the line of duty after being forcefully conscripted into the Japanese Army.

 

Works Cited

Shibuichi, Daiki. “The Yasukuni Shrine Dispute and the Politics of Identity in Japan: Why All the Fuss?” Asian Survey, 45.2 (2005): 197-215.

Takahashi, Tetsuya. Legacies of empire: the Yasukuni Shrine controversy. Washington, DC: Pearson Books, 2008. Print.

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